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Analysis: Why ‘Pachamama’ took a dip

By JD Flynn

Vatican City, Oct 26, 2019 / 10:21 am (CNA).- Last week, Vatican Media interviewed Fr. Paulo Suess, a German priest who has served for decades among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. Fr. Suess is in Rome as an official of the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, and is regarded there as an expert on the region.

The priest was asked about a ceremony held in St. Peter’s Basilica Oct. 7, which seemed to use both traditional Christian symbols and unexplained symbols of indigenous Amazonian culture.

“It is definitely the case that there is a noticeable sentiment against the synod on the part of certain media here….Someone wrote that it was a pagan rite,” Fr. Suess responded.

“So what?”

“Even if that had been a pagan rite, what took place was still a worship service. A rite always has something to do with worship. Paganism cannot be dismissed as nothing. What is pagan? In our big cities we are no less pagan than in the jungle. That’s something to think about,” he said

Vatican Media eventually removed those comments from its interview with the priest, with no note or indication of the redaction.

Anyone who wants to understand how the Vatican’s synod of bishops on the Amazon has become such a flashpoint for controversy, or why five carved statues were removed from a Roman church and tossed into the Tiber River, should think carefully about Fr. Suess’ comments, and their publication by the official media organ of the Holy See.

On Oct. 21, five statues were taken, apparently quite early in the morning, from the Carmelite Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina, four blocks from St. Peter’s Basilica. They were thrown off a nearby bridge into the Tiber River.

On Friday the pope announced that they had been recovered, apologized to anyone offended by their submersion in the Tiber’s waters, and said they might make an appearance at Sunday’s closing Mass for the synod.

The statues had become recognizable to Catholics around the world. They were featured prominently in a tree-planting ceremony that kicked off the Amazon synod. They have been a part of daily “moments of spirituality” at the Carmelite church. They have been inside St. Peter’s Basilica, at an Amazonian stations of the cross, and at many other events surrounding the Amazon synod.

They have been alternatively described as symbols of the Blessed Virgin, the Andean pagan idol Pachamama, and ambiguous symbols of “life.”

At the synod, they are symbols of controversy.

Images of the figures used prominently in unexplained and unfamiliar rituals or spiritual expressions, even with persons prostrating themselves in front of the statues, led observers to ask what connections the figures have to indigenous religious rituals, in short, whether they have a pagan provenance, and, if so, what it means for them to be used in a Catholic context, and most especially in the sacred space of a Church.

It should be clear that the Church’s long-considered and nuanced views on inculturation are complex, and that the Gospel is always expressed in the context of some culture, and that missionaries, dating back to St. Paul himself, have taken up the symbols of particular cultures in order to proclaim the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, there might have been clear and reasonable answers to the questions that surfaced even as soon as the Oct. 4 tree-planting ceremony was concluded.

But at least three times, Vatican officials or synod participants were asked about the statues and the rituals and spirituality expressions in which they were involved. Questions went mostly unanswered. Vatican officials pointed to organizers of synod events, who pointed back to Vatican officials. The few nebulous answers that were offered made clear that, although the statues were present at official synod events, the Vatican seemed to have no idea what they were, and little interest in finding out.

While the statues were the subject of almost no discussion inside the press room, they went instantly viral on social media. They were featured prominently in memes, were the subject of fierce social media debate among Catholics, and from their first appearance, speculation about their significance ran rampant.

Some of that speculation was uninformed and reactionary.

Ultraconservative commentators insisted that the figures were specific pagan idols, with very little evidence. Some went so far as to accuse the pope himself of a kind of paganism, to support their broader narrative of calumnious criticism of the pope.

With the same enthusiasm, ultramontane writers claimed first that the statutes were definitively the Blessed Virgin Mary. When that viewpoint was dismissed by Vatican officials, the same commentators began to claim that the figures were indigenous symbols about which asking questions was somehow an expression of prejudice, or even racism.

Even in the Vatican press room, one journalist said this month during a press conference that other reporters, presumably those who had asked questions about the statues, had committed lamentable acts of racism against indigenous persons. Vatican officials did not refute that charge.

The truth, of course, is that no one has provided a definitive answer about the statues’ provenance, and few seem able to do so.

But in the absence of information, the figures became totemic rallying cries for all parties in the fractious debate over the present and future of the Catholic Church.

For their part, Vatican officials seemed not to understand just how seriously the entire affair was being taken by many Catholics, or not to take seriously the Catholics themselves who were concerned about it.

For many Catholics, concern about the statue was borne of genuine concern to understand how unfamiliar figures and rituals fit into the proclamation of the faith, and what they might mean about the Church’s vision of evangelization. Such concerns can hardly be called irrational.

Still, one synod participant told CNA that behind closed doors, some Vatican officials overtly dismissed concerns as either propaganda from “anti-Francis Americans” or overt racism. That concern might be borne of genuine religious conviction has not been, at any time, acknowledged by Vatican and synod spokesmen.

With no intervention, and no official explanation of the symbols and rituals in question, the debate roiled, and then boiled over completely on Oct. 21, when the statues were taken from the Church, and thrown into the river.

Whether it was right or wrong to take the statues is beyond the scope of this analysis. But the factors that led to the act are worth noting, as is what the entire incident might portend for the next years in the future of the Church.

It seems there are three things that led to the point at which “Pachamama” swam the Tiber.

The first is the failure of Vatican officials to take seriously the concerns of Catholics about the religious rituals and symbols surrounding the synod, and, by many accounts, to take seriously the questions of journalists about the matter. Even veteran Vatican journalist Sandro Magister was dismissed curtly Oct. 25 when he presented basic facts – facts available for review on video – in the Vatican press office.

Failure to understand, or take seriously, why Catholics were asking questions seems to have prevented spokesman from providing reasonable answers when first the issue surfaced. As the situation heated up, the questions compounded, but answers were not forthcoming.

Of course, it is possible that officials didn’t answer questions because they didn’t know the answers. Had spokespersons said that Oct. 4, and actually followed through on finding out the answers, at least some of the scandal likely would have been quelled. Instead, journalists who asked questions were sent from one spokesperson to another, with each person pointing the finger in a different direction.

The second factor is the silence of Pope Francis on the matter. Whatever the pope thought of the events transpiring around the synod, they were transpiring in his front yard, and it was evident they were becoming a source of controversy. But the pope did not speak until Oct. 25, when the statues had been recovered from the river, and then he gave a very short statement.

At that time, Pope Francis referred to the statues as “Pachamama,” which, predictably, has intensified debate about their provenance. He apologized to those offended that they had been tossed into the river, and noted that they had been placed in the Church without “idolatrous intentions.”

Even that statement was apparently not intended to be public. It was given before the bishops participating in the synod, and only became publicly known when some journalists heard the pope’s remarks as they were leaving the room after an opening prayer. The Vatican only provided a transcript of the pope’s remarks after they had been widely reported.

“Jesus was a person of dialogue and encounter,” the synod’s working document proclaims. Indeed, the document mentions dialogue 68 times, pointing to dialogue as “the method that must always be applied to achieve the good life.”

But on this issue, which became important to a notable number of Catholics, dialogue was forthcoming from neither the pope nor his communications staff.

The third factor, which ought not be ignored, is the hyper-escalating tendency of a culture in which social media battles and YouTube commentaries have a considerable effect on the faith lives of a sizable number of practicing Catholics.

A media figure raised in the era of cable news said recently to CNA that “Twitter isn’t real life.” In fact, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, et al are an influential aspect of real life for an entire generation. President Donald Trump understood that well enough to get elected through the social media personality he built for himself. Other political figures have followed suit.

But social media is the Wild West, for better or worse. There are real benefits to the wide-open space of social media, especially for the Church. But the culture is one in which there are no rules about decorum, in which incendiary figures can build a following quickly, in which personal conflict escalates quickly into partisan flamethrowing, and in which the most sensational account is usually the most likely to gain traction.

The Amazon Synod, with all its conflicts and deficiencies, is taking place in the era of the “hot take.” During the Amazon synod, figures from both the left and the right intensified and escalated the debate by their online comportment. An example, again, is how quickly some figures devolved attempts at reasonable conversation with identity politics and unrelenting accusations of racism.

Questions and concerns about the statues are valid and fair. But the speed and vitriol with which debate about them became entrenched had a polarizing effect that made a less dramatic conclusion to the affair far less likely.

The effects of the debate should demonstrate that even if only a small number of actually practicing Catholics occupy space in the world of “Catholic Twitter,” that small number has an outside influence on how some events in the Church will unfold.

Until a more humane online culture emerges, if that is even possible, and especially until Church leaders begin to understand how quickly online narratives can bleed into “irl” action, division in the Church will be amplified and hastened by the culture of social media. Whether Vatican officials will consider that a lesson worth learning is yet to be determined.

The Amazon synod has been billed as a sign of the Church’s closeness to real people. There may be ways in which it is that. But it is also evidence of the widening gap in understanding between Church leaders and a large cadre of practicing Catholics on a broad range of issues.

The opposite of dialogue is the lack of listening and the imposition that prevent us from meeting, communicating and, therefore, living together,” the synod’s Instrumentum laboris says.

The “Pachamama” splash heard ‘round the world is evidence that among some Vatican leaders, a commitment to ‘dialogue’ is still needed, far beyond the pan-Amazonian region.


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29 Comments

  1. “Ultraconservative commentators insisted that the figures were specific pagan idols, with very little evidence. Some went so far as to accuse the pope himself of a kind of paganism, to support their broader narrative of calumnious criticism of the pope.” More ridiculous propaganda and meaningless word salad from Mr. Flynn and the “catholic” News Agency. Please validate your claim of “calumny” against Pope Francis. It is rather the Pope who erupts with calumnious invective on a regular basis. Indeed, his outrageous insults are so frequent that there are entire websites devoted to them. The Pope himself called the figurines “Pachamama,” which is a pagan idol. His stated “intentions” are simply dishonest. If he places a statue of the goddess Venus in a Catholic church, but does so “without idolatrous intent,” does his caveat have any credibility?

  2. I remember when St. Blogs, now called the Catholic blogosphere, was the Wild West of media interaction.

    The article puts more meat behind the meme for the Communications Department at the Vatican, “Yesterday’s Technology Tomorrow!”.

  3. Almost anything written by CNA has to be taken with a grain of salt.They know that they have to please the bishops, their meal tickets.

  4. “Whether it was right or wrong to take the statues is beyond the scope of this analysis. ”

    Since you don’t seem to be able to figure it out, allow me to provide the answer: It was right to take the statues. It was wrong to throw them into the Tiber, from which they could be recovered. Rather, they should have been chopped to pieces and burned.

  5. The “lack of understanding” that gets tossed around is the loss of Faith. Period. It is the attempt to call heresy and apostasy belief…and even deny that video recorded, publicly witnessed “prostrations” are “prostrations.” This of course parallels the handling of financial and sexual scandal with the demanded, has-to-be equivalencies of all beliefs/practices and the rejection of Tradition and Revelation primarily but not exclusively rooted in the Church in compulsive, character disordered clerical/hierarchical ruling class sodomy.

    The current “periphery” are those who believe in the Catholic Faith and that such a Faith can be said to actually exist.

  6. It seems that Mr. Flynn is not interested in “getting to the truth” in this matter. Even after the Pope himself has admitted that the wooden images were of Pachamama, and these images were worshipped in the Vatican gardens in his very presence.

    Journalists, one would hope, might opt to “get the truth.”

    While I am not a journalist, let me offer my amateur assistance.

    Pachamama is the pagan Andean fertility goddess chosen as idol and icon fir the Marxist South American network, including the Bolivian Marxist dictator Evo Morales. This is the same Evo Morales who joined with Pope Francis is staging the photo-op stunt of the Hammer and Sickle Crucifix.

    Now it is a known fact that Pope Francis and Evo Morales are longtime acquaintances, both being powerful figures in South America. And it is already known to us that the spokesman for Pope Francis, Bishop Sorondo of South America, has declared that the Chinese Communist Party best exemplifies the “Catholic” Idea of social justice.

    Here is an article from an environmentalist website that explains the Andean pagan fertility goddess Pachamama.

    https://natureneedshalf.org/2018/05/promise-to-pachamama/

    Note that this article is written long before the Pachamama stunt staged in the Vatican this week, by members of the political movement that states the identity of Pachamama.

    Everyone knows that Pope Francis is a very intelligent and highly connected man. He is from South America, he knows exactly who Pachamama is, and he knows exactly how Evo Morales and the Marxist movement employ Pachamama.

    So let’s stop pretending that this is all a surprise.

    Pachamama is the ancient pagan idol repurposed for the Marxist ideology, and Pope Francis approves her worship in the churches of the Vatican.

    For Francis to claim that he put a pagan idol in the Vatican and in his Roman Churches with “no idolatrous intent” is preposterous.

    This is a political stunt by Pope Francis, just as the Hammer and Sickle Crucifix was, and it is purposefully done to profane what authentic Catholic people hold sacred, and sacralize the Marxist ideology so dear to Francis.

  7. Very good, balanced treatment of this situation.

    BTW, “borne” means “carried.” The correct word in your context is “born,” originates from or arises from.

  8. I, for one, thank the Good Lord for oil and other natural resources which have alleviated billions from poverty-which I keep hearing is such a bad thing. It is socialism/Marxism which is “devil’s dung” and prevents millions from rising out of the “bad thing”. Capitalism-I prefer the term “economic freedom”- prevents billions from having to endure that “bad thing”. 100% clean air is useless if we are reduced to the level of cavemen-but then, if that did happen, we would all be “equal” and enjoy “income equality”. Maybe that “bad thing” is not so bad after all!

    JPII, I miss you !! BVI, I miss you, too!

    • “I can’t breathe but at least I’m not socialist!!!! Maybe breathing is not so important!!”
      I am certain your feudal lords will reward you for your loyalty. However, I’ve read somewhere that you can’t serve two masters…

      • Joe K., your assumption is that anyboy who disagrees with you must ipso facto be some poor downtrodden peasant with a “feudal lord.” Arrogant and condescending, much?

  9. I post an already posted? Wikipedia link to Pachamama:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pachamama

    Please note:

    1)the article’s reference to “the four cosmological Quechua principles Water, Earth, Sun, and Moon” parallel to the synod’s 4 “diagnoses” of “cultural, social, pastoral and ecological issues in the Pan-Amazonian region.” Pachamama is the origin of the four cosmological principles…the synod began with Pachamama…

    2) the article’s reference that prior to being sacrificed to Pachamama, during the last year of the 15 year old girl victim’s ife, she would be fed the “food of the elites.” Revealed by analysis of mummies. Note Bergoglio’s concern for the “elites.”

    3) Pachamama is not simply the goddess of earth but time. Consider Jorge “time is superior to space” Bergoglio.

    In short, just something to add to Chris from Maryland’s excellent summary.

    In addition to being a Marxist, has Bergoglio been a devotee of Pachamama before this synod and was the synod itself, so lacking in reference to Christ in reality a colonization of the Catholic by the Amazonian (and yes German) Religion? Would this explain not only his apology “as Bishop of Rome” but also his entire heretical/apostate papacy?

  10. In an important observation about the author, his colleague Rod Dreher, of the Orthodox Church, indicates that the author is surprised that Dreher and others report that there is a crisis in the Catholic Church and in Christianity.

    He suggests that the author might consider “looking around you.”

    Cardinal Mueller has sounded the alarm here.

    The Vatican spokesmen has now gone so far as to deny the videotaped evidence of worship of the pagan idol in the presence of Pope Francis. Sandro Magister has pointed out that the Pentacosts and evangelicals are using the video to persuade more Catholics to leave the Church because it has now openly endorsed idolatry. And the spokesman insisted that we all must pretend now that the reality on the video didn’t happen.

    Unfortunately for most Catholics who listen to journalists like Mr. Flynn, they are reading from journalists who are are not facing reality.

  11. In the middle of the article linked below, the author’s colleague Rod Dreher (former Catholic and now in the Orthodox Church), reports that Mr. Flynn wonders why Dreher reports on the Church “in crisis mode.” Mr. Dreher suggests that Mr. Flynn might learn the answer if he “looked around.”

    https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/the-pachamama-pope/

    Dreher is, to his credit, trying to face reality. Unfortunately, it seems that many Catholic journalists are not willing or able to face reality.

    Cardinal Mueller is facing reality. So is Bishop Schneider, and there have been others, like the Brazilian Bishop who spoke against the idolatry of the Pachamama stunt.

    I am increasingly convinced that our Church has become impoverished in mind and heart by the decades of psychological “grooming” by demonic, sociopathic frauds like McCarrick, and the mediocre men in the episcopal ranks who revered him, to the point that we can no longer bear to face reality.

    As one other notable writer admired here has remarked: “The day is now far spent.”

    Marxists and radical environmentalists know all about who Pachamama is and what she represents. Pope Francis, being a member of the first group, and perhaps the second, also knows exactly who the pagan idol Pachamama is, and what her worship is meant to signify.

    Catholic men like J. D. Flynn need to start “looking around.”

    Pope Francis is a wolf in shepherd’s clothing.

    • More of the story in Dreher about what happened in that garden is referenced in Fr. Dwight L.’s article (also in Wikipedia)…all the “stuff” on the blanket. Good luck getting an explanation of that along with what was said by…the priestess.

      BTW, and I state this with hesitation…Pachamama is married to her own son in Amazonian/Incan mythology,tradition. What of the smaller statues etc…

      This was pagan worship and magic/witchcraft (at the Vatican Garden) and a mockery and demonic subordination/subjection of Catholic Faith and theology to the Satanic and the Marxist…ergo the minimization of the name of Christ in the documents.

      The apology of “the Bishop of Rome” was that of someone who sees no problem with someone being a “Catholic” devotee…whether its himself or a a Latin American priest or hierarch…and of course Latin Americans himself.

      And of all this “preparation” and initiation? starting a long time prior and coming out during the Month of the Rosary…

      In some ways this is like that part of the exorcism where the demon reveals their name…

      If faithful Catholics say and do nothing at this point starting at their parishes?

    • Chris in Maryland, your posts are really good, thank you. I think though, that you are skirting round the issue when you say simply that we are impoverished by the McCarrick phenomenon and the sycophants associated with him. The Vigano allegations allude to something that is self-evident once an examination of the networks is made. That is, it doesn’t end with McCarrick – we are seeing the groups and networks in power now- it is their interest to make the Church into their tool – they don’t care about the sentiments of ‘faithful Catholics’. They have an agenda and they obviously have powerful secular allies in the media and in other power-brokers. They don’t care about people protesting, they have contempt for us, and for the Church. The Church is the moral leader of 1.3 billion people. It has immense wealth and moral power. They have made a power-grab and the fact that people don’t like what they do does not concern them.
      The same names come up with every sexual scandal, the same names with the financial scandals now – funny that huh? And, on each occasion, there is absolutely no action by Francis. What does that say? That is not a demoralised Church of faithful people. That is an organisation, the hierarchy of which has been taken over by a corrupt group. There is no ambiguity there – this is not some group of naive, well-meaning inclusives, who have unintentionally exposed themselves to a benign wooden statue that turns out to be a pagan goddess. Every step of this is planned and designed to bring the Catholic religion within the Masonic embrace of a general, vague, theism. We can sit back and watch while this group reveals itself , as Joseph said ‘this is like that part of the exorcism where the demon reveals their name’…a brilliant observation.

  12. This article seems to be over-complicating the situation and creating a mystery where none exists. The statues were identified as Pachamama-like figures within a day or so of their appearance in the Vatican gardens, and a number of online sources described Pachamama as a fertility goddess or Mother Earth figure originally associated with the Andes, and popular in some New Age circles in recent years. More evidence accumulated, including statements from people knowledgeable about spiritual practices in the region. Still, I suppose that, due to the Vatican Communications Office’s bungling of the situation, one could continue to extend the benefit of the doubt for a few days, but then Pope Francis removed that doubt by positively identifying the statues as “Pachamamas.” The only mystery to me is why anyone thinks that there’s still a mystery.

  13. The important take-away from this incident is that you need to take a hatchet to the idol BEFORE throwing it into the river.

    • It is regrettable that there were apparently no readily available wood chippers, which would have returned the material in the idols to Mother Earth as quickly as current technology makes possible, without the production of any carbon dioxide.

  14. Pachamama: Andean/Inca – Independent Life-sustaining fertility deity, Source of the four cosmological principles, Mother of the Sun and Moon deities; still worshipped by animal sacrifice, and formerly by child sacrifice on mountaintops. Children were selected for their beauty and purity. Several such remains have been uncovered by archeologists. In pre-Hispanic culture Pachamama was often a cruel goddess eager to collect her sacrifices. Later she was often equated with the figure of the Virgin Mary. Nowadays she is considered to be benevolent, giving, and a local name for Mother Nature.
    So Vaticomm and CNA couldn’t check Wikipedia?
    And The Blessed Virgin Mother of Guadalupe couldn’t be substituted, to assume the Amazonia Mother-principle duties?
    I vote for depontification.

  15. Gee. A lot of talk about self-evident idolatrous statues in Catholic circles all around the world. Not one word anywhere about what should have been the central discussion of this entire Synod. What kind of religion and what kind of depraved indifference by Catholics in the region and by “Catholic” prelates in the Vatican is occurring whereby it is possible to bury children alive and what kind of depraved indifference is necessary to not even discuss the matter at this sham synod?

  16. The Vatican hierarchy have been consistent in a complete disdain for truthful communication about their agendas. The nadir (so far) was when Pope Francis indicated by code-talk that the journalists would comply with the prevailing power structure when confronted with the allegations by Archbishop Vigano. It seems that Francis was correct in his assumption of compliance on the part of the ‘investigative ‘ journalists – the allegations by Vigano were met with main stream media silence. I can only assume some Masonic complicity. Now, we are faced with further dissembling by Francis and the Vatican spokespeople. Those who professed ignorance about the identity of the pagan symbol, given their official status, can only be being dishonest, especially given Francis’ open avowal of the image as ‘Pachamama’ – after all, they could watch a children’s video on Pachamama if they chose.
    The Soviet Government conducted an active program of disinformation during the Cold War, and well after this was continued by socialist activists in the west. By this character assassination was effected against those who were a threat to the advancement of the socialist agenda – Pope Pius XII was a target because of his bravery in World War II and his opposition to communism. They employed agents in the media and dissembled false information throughout the West by the publication of books and articles which were then reviewed by compliant journalists. The pontificate of Francis is notable for the absence of engagement with the truth; Vigano makes allegations- silence. Astonishment (by so-called ‘ultra conservative Catholics ‘ ie., ‘rigid’), at pagan fertility goddesses being venerated in the centre of Catholicism- silence. Next we will be met with a deliberately ambiguous publication by which the homosexual element of the Catholic Church can claim validation in some murky ambiguity, where women can claim some authority to priesthood or where anyone can claim anything they want – because it is meaningless.
    As Christ was the Logos, the Word made flesh, and as the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Christ, as God is Truth, what does it say when the successor of Peter does not speak the truth and when Christ’s Church meets the world with dissembling and lies?

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